Zambian Mole Rat

The Zambian Mole Rat (Fukomys amatus) is a species of rodent that has adapted to live and forage underground.  They are rarely exposed to daylight.

These adaptations include having a high tolerance to carbon dioxide and low oxygen concentrations with a lower body temperature and resting metabolic rate than most other small mammals.

They are noted for living in very long tunnels, up to 2.8 km in length for a single colony of only 10 related individuals - digging longer tunnels than many other mammals.  They make their nest at the southern end of their tunnels, where the breeding pair lives, with densely branched tunnels fanning out from this nest.

Mole rats live in savannah bushland and miombo woodlands and can be found under urban gardens and golf courses in and around Lusaka and in Central Province.



Zambian Mole Rat
Photo from ARKive ©Gerhard Schulz


Length:  9-12 cm
Weight:  30-60 grams


The mole rat has light brown short fur covering a cylindrical-shaped body, with a loose skin that lets them easily shake off dirt.  This loose skin also enables them to turn around in their narrow burrows.

They have a large head, with small eyes.  They can only detect light and dark, having poor eyesight but they are thought to sense the earth’s magnetic field to help them to orientate through their burrows.  They have large ever growing incisor teeth.

Their streamlined body, and short limbs, allows them to easily move backwards and forwards in their narrow burrow.  Stiff hairs on their hind feet and tail helps them to hold onto soil whilst moving around.



Zambian mole rats are very social, living in family colonies consisting of a single breeding pair and their non-breeding offspring.  They remain with their parents, foraging and helping to maintain the family burrow.  These ‘eusocial’ family colonies are similar in social structure to termites and honeybees.

They are active both during the day and night, using their incisor teeth like a shovel to excavate their burrows by biting into the soil.  They keep soil out of their mouth with their strong muscular lips, located behind their incisors, and they sharpen their teeth by grinding their lower incisor against the upper ones.  Although they have limited hearing they do have a large vocal repertoire.

Mole rats are seasonally reproductive.  Just one female gives birth after a gestation period of about 100 days to a litter of 2 to 4 young, which are dark in colour.  Their fur lightens with age and they are weaned after 35 days.

They feed underground on roots, tubers, and invertebrates.

Zambian mole rats have been found to be more social than other mole rat species.  Their tunnels connect to neighbouring colonies which enables them to socialise and possibly find new mates and to also steal their neighbour's food.  In one study, four colonies were linked together by tunnels spanning over 7kms.

Mole rats have been known to live up to 20 years.




Population:  not known

Trend:  Decreasing

Zambian Mole Rats are listed on the IUCN Red List as Near Threatened.

There is thought to be a continuous decline in their numbers.  This is due to over harvesting for food in urban areas and because they are considered as pests in gardens and on agricultural land.